Word came down Friday that the city has agreed to pay $850,000 to the family of Tyreece Abney, who was beaten to death by Bloods gang members on Rikers Island eight years ago as correction staff allegedly watched and did nothing.
It was yet another recent big dollar settlement in fatal or near-death incidents involving staff complicity or passivity as violence churned around them. Christopher Robinson’s family got $2 million in their lawsuit after the 18-year-old was beaten to death by bloods gang members. And Kadeem John got $850,000 for serious head and other injuries he suffered at the hands of inmates as guards did nothing. And Patrick Miller’s mom got $1.5 million after the mentally ill, homeless man was beaten to death in the Bellevue Hospital jail ward by correction officers. In all, those four cases alone have cost the city $5.2 million.
It’s not like these are the only ones of this type. The Voice has been documenting these sorts of incidents since 2007. And 2008. The Abney cases goes back to 2004. This reporter, working for another newspaper, wrote about a similar death–a fatal assault on 17-year-old Matthew Velez by gang members–which took place 12 years ago in 2000. As one lawyer familiar with Rikers’ violence said recently, “Nothing ever changes.”
This statement raises other questions: what does the city do with big settlements following horrific incidents of this type? Are they simply viewed as the cost of doing business? Are these incidents seem by the city as sort of uncontrollable, like the tide? Or does the Correction Department, as it should, take any lessons from these cases?
After all, by the time these cases settled, by and large, through discovery, the city’s lawyers have a pretty clear picture of what happened, and theoretically, could make internal recommendations about lessons learned. Is there a budget for legal settlements that is more about the bottom line, than about the details of these cases?
In fairness, stemming from the Christopher Robinson case, the Correction Department has gone to some lengths to address teen violence in the Robert N. Davoren Center.
Typically, as in the Abney case, these settlements come with no admission of liability, giving the city a narrow opening to still indirectly dispute the claim by saying the payout was only made to avoid an unpredictable jury verdict. But no one signs off on $5.2 million in settlements without seeing some pretty serious evidence.
And it’s not like the city is not spending a lot of money on settlements–$664 in fiscal 2011, $735 million in fiscal 2012, rising to $816 million in fiscal 2016. That’s all agencies, by the way.